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UF Law continues to lead The Florida Bar with alum Eugene Pettis


By Matt Walker

University of Florida Levin College of Law alum Eugene K. Pettis (JD 85) became The Florida Bar's president-elect designee in December.

Pettis will be sworn in as president-elect in June 2012 when fellow UF Law alum Gwynne Young (JD 74) becomes The Florida Bar president. When Pettis takes over the office in 2013 he will make history as the first African-American president of the Florida Bar. Similarly, another UF Law grad — former ABA President Stephen N. Zack — made history by becoming the first Hispanic-American to lead The Florida Bar in 1989.

Pettis specializes in medical malpractice, personal injury, commercial litigation and employment law, and has been practicing since 1985. He is a founding partner at Haliczer, Pettis & Schwamm in Fort Lauderdale. During his tenure as president, Pettis said judicial funding will be high on his list of priorities.

"I will continue the advancement of identifying a long-term, predictable source of court funding so that every Floridian will be assured access to our courts," he said. "We must also appreciate that an effective judicial system also includes well-funded court clerks, state attorneys' offices and public defenders, which all contribute to our quality of life and democracy."

Pettis also emphasized the importance of promoting diversity within the legal profession. He said there has been an ongoing dialogue of diversity over the past decade, but there have been questions of whether or it has translated into a "real measurable change."

"I will work at every level of the bar, through sections, voluntary bars, standing committees and the governor's office, on JNC and judicial appointments to achieve inclusion of all sectors of our profession," Pettis said. "I truly believe the strength of the bar rests in the whole; together, there is benefit for us all."

Finally, Pettis said the recent economic downturn has had a significant impact on legal aid organizations.

"We must recognize an obligation to strive for equal access to an availability of legal services for all Floridians in need. The Florida Bar, through its Florida Bar Foundation, must meet the call in the coming years."

A member of the bar's governing board since 2005, Pettis currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors and is reviewing the bar's disciplinary system as co-chair of the Hawkins Commission.

Pettis has also been an active alum and loyal donor at UF Law over the years.

Last year, Pettis and his wife Sheila established the Eugene Pettis Family BLSA Academic Support Endowment to help support Black Law School Association activities that can enrich the academic experience of BLSA members. He is also the chairman of UF's Heritage of Leadership committee and a member of UF Law's Board of Trustees.

As The Florida Bar president, Pettis will join a number of UF Law alumni who have led the bar in recent years including John G. White III (JD 83), immediate past President Mayanne Downs (JD 87), current President Scott Hawkins (JD 83) and president-elect, Gwynne Young.

"I have always held high my pride of being a Florida Gator and the Gator Nation," Pettis said. "But never have I experienced the breadth of the Gator Nation than when I was campaigning across this state. The reach of UF Law covers every corner of this state. I look forward to continuing the tradition of leadership of UF Law within the bar. It speaks volumes of the quality of education UF Law provides when you note that I will be the fifth UF Law alum out of the past six to serve as president of The Florida Bar."